Tasmania's 2015 Dairy Share Farmers of the Year have used an accredited Australian Cattle Veterinarians (ACV) member for the past 11 years. The advice and ACV's pregnancy-scanning PregCheck and bull-fertility testing (Bullcheck) programs have improved every aspect of their animal management, allowing them to build and protect their asset - their herd - the foundation of their operation's profitability.
Leigh and Kellie Schuuring's first job in the dairy industry was milking for a share farmer. Some 15 years on, they own 950 crossbred Friesian-Jerseys milkers. Fundamental to their success, they believe, has been the advice and services from their accredited Australian Cattle Veterinarian, Dr Craig Dwyer, of Smithton Veterinary Service.
Always interested in bettering their systems, Mr Schuuring said they initially used Craig on their first 50/50 share-farming job, 11 years ago. Receiving a "no" after asking the property owner if they would like to participate in using a consultant, the Schuurings went ahead themselves.
"The cows are our main asset, so someone who can look at the cow side of things with really strong knowledge seemed to be the way to go," he said. "For us, that person was a cattle vet. Then besides the animals, Craig had a whole lot of other information for all sides of the business."
The Schuurings are now into their seventh season with their second share-farming position at Grant and Kim Archer's farm at Mella on Tasmania's north-west coast. Naturally their ACV came with them. The couple has been runner up three times in Tasmania's Dairy Business of the Year competition and won the Share Dairy Farmer of the Year award in 2015.
"I believe that we're consistent in what we do for our business as a whole," he said. "This comes back to Craig's help and guidance as well. You're on the front foot with new things. He's always up on training and research, and pushes me in our areas as well - how we get the bulls ready, have we done 'that' with the cows yet? Sometimes you're concentrating on something else, so he's on to you. He helps with nutrition, making sure we're feeding grain to what's needed for pasture rotations. We're not fancy with it, we just grow as much grass as we can.
"Craig convinced us to do the GnRH Ovsynch (synchronising) program. Heifers and cows are our business, so as sharefarmers, getting as many cows in calf to AI was massive. We do six weeks of AI, with mop-up bulls for three weeks, down from six."
Mr Schuuring said using ACV's programs for pregnancy scanning, Pregcheck, and bull-fertility testing, Bullcheck, had had positive impacts on their husbandry practices and outcomes.
"It's definitely made me run our bulls a lot differently - starting a good three months out to joining," he said. "The Pregcheck testing means we're able to cull earlier because Craig ages the foetuses. Last year in the drought we could make decisions very early - culling empties and selling late calvers to other farmers. That was very helpful."
A past committee member of the Australian Veterinary Association's Tasmanian division, former ACV state rep and current ACV president, Dr Dwyer said Pregcheck was part of an overall fertility and animal health program.
"We're very focused on a tight calving timeframe so they remain as profitable as possible and can also match pasture-growth rate on the farm," he said. "The focus stems right from pre-calving and making sure we don't have metabolic problems, to managing cows post-calving for weight and cycling, and from there, being part of a synchronising program to condense the calving pattern. Doing Pregcheck early helps them make good management decisions.
"Leigh and Kellie have one of the district's top-five-highest in-calf rates - they consistently get more than 80 per cent, while the national average is about 50 per cent. We like this district to be over 70 per cent, but not all of them are. This consistency Leigh and Kellie have is not something that happens overnight.
"Being sharefarmers, their whole investment in the industry is in cows. The very good reproductive results we get have allowed them to grow the herd. Because we use Bullcheck, they can sell extra bulls as fertility-tested. All these options helps make them more profitable."
Dr Dwyer said 1 per cent increase in six-week in-calf rates had a corresponding $300-$500 per 100 cows profit on the farm.
"This links directly to profitability," he said. "It takes a minimum of three years to start improving herd reproduction, but without accurate data - from accurate preg testing - you can't even start."
For the first eight years, Dr Dwyer's visits were every five to six weeks; this has now pulled back to every eight. "We're on top of it but Craig knows the herd so well, it's just a phone call really," he said.
Mr Schuuring cites another way Dr Dwyer had helped them. "One year we got Craig's largest case of salmonella within the cows, but he saved us a heap of money in the end because he was on the ball and he kept us on the ball as well," he said.
Mr Schuuring said he wouldn't entertain the idea of not using an accredited Australian Cattle Veterinarian. "Even just for general things," he said. "It's a level of comfort. Even if one of the clinic's other vets comes out, I know they always relay every-thing back to Craig, so he always knows what's going on - even if it's our dogs.
"I know Craig being a cattle vet has helped us so much in getting us to where we are."
For his part, Dr Dwyer pays tribute to the Schuurings' hard work and dedication. "For them now to own a 950-cow herd, with 300 dairy replacements, and become Sharefarmer of the Year, just shows what can happen," he said. D
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